I read 80% of Adam Peterson’s The Flasher in the bathtub, which seems entirely fitting. I’m not at all afraid to say that baths stimulate me in the same way flashing stimulates flashers. Baths compel me, they invigorate me, in some strange way they solidify my relationship to the greater world. The only difference between soaking in the tub and flashing is where one is solitary, contemplative, the other asks for a wider public, a larger stage. But both are—mysteriously no doubt—borne out of reverence for one’s place in the always-spryly grinning universe.
At its core The Flasher is a love story. A man—the flasher—falls in love with a woman—a muffin store employee—who “takes [muffin] batter off [her body] with her tongue” (31) and is possessing of what can only be described as a nuanced personality. The flasher attempts to woo said woman/muffin store employee. He fails. The end. Throughout the course of the book other things, of course, happen: the flasher visits his ailing mother in the hospital, the flasher makes french toast, the flasher uses a public restroom, the flasher swallows the Earth and diagnoses the sky. But the flasher’s relationship with his would be lover is the driving storyline, the one element of the book that—albeit obliquely—ties everything together. Without it there would be no, as it were, narrative thrust, nothing to continue to propel the reader forward.
I say book. But clocking in at exactly 60 pages, The Flasher is less a book than a series of interrelated vignettes, each one no longer than 200 words, rendered on the page in block form, in prose. Each furthermore has a title that always begins with “The flasher” i.e. “The flasher bests the hero at heroism,” “The flasher disappears,” “The flasher draws a schematic of his heart,” etc., etc. As The Flasher is classified on its back cover as an example of both “Prose Poetry” and “Flash Fiction” one might—to use to use an already overused word, one particularly endemic to our contemporary literary culture—call Peterson a hybrid writer of sorts, but I’d caution against that. This is mainly because reading through the volume I get the sense that at heart Peterson is a fiction writer, a writer of impeccably crafted sentences and skewed narratives and realistic (or not realistic) dialogue. He’s not not a poet with his work in The Flasher—he’s just clearly a fiction writer with exceptionally well-honed poetic impulses and renderings.
The flasher in The Flasher is both typical and atypical. In terms of his chosen uniform he chooses to wear what all flashers choose to wear: a pair of dark sunglasses, a fedora, a loosely belted trench coat and nothing else. But in sensibility and attitude the flasher is unlike so many other flashers before him: he rarely actually flashes, and it is not until the final piece in the collection that he sheds it, all of it, and lets the world see him for who he truly is. And even then he puts on a half-stilted, bashful display: “First, it’s the belt of his trench coat, dangling down to tickle his knee. Then it’s his hat. After that, it’s his sunglasses. The daylight blinds him. He can no longer see her, but she can see the whole of him. He counts to one instant then closes his coat, his eyes. His mouth is still open. And open. And open” (60). This is exhibitionism perhaps, but it’s self-reflective, arguably tender exhibitionism. It’s quasi romantic. Although he certainly makes some dubious statements and decisions throughout the book—at various points, borrowing and promptly breaking up a marriage, ruining Opposite Day, arriving way way too early for a birthday party, trying to catch his sick mother doing something “untoward” (25) in her hospital room—at the end of the day the flasher in The Flasher is a sweetheart, someone worth loving. He doesn’t get the girl by the collection’s end, it’s true. And he also doesn’t make any meaningful, purposeful moral strides; in the third to last text in the book “The flasher tries to draw a heart” and this is what he comes up with:
The flasher is a flasher is a flasher. But regardless of whether he can actually draw one, he has a certain heart of gold in every piece in the book. Nameless throughout, he’s nevertheless someone easy to know by the collection’s conclusion. And even easier to like.
With The Flasher Peterson makes clear that as a writer—be that one of a poetic or more rigidly fictional slant—he possesses the rarest of imaginations. Absurdly enjoyable to read, The Flasher doesn’t present anything wholly new to the world of American letters. It presents something else—and this is unarguably more important. In the bathtub or on the bus or in your deepest, darkest bed, The Flasher is worth reading. Believe everything you hear and nothing you see.
Jeff Alessandrelli lives in Lincoln, NE, where, along with Trey Moody, he co-curates The Clean Part Reading Series. He is the author of the little book Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound (Ravenna Press, 2011) and the chapbook Don’t Let Me Forget To Feed the Sharks (Poor Claudia, 2012). Recent work by Jeff appears/is forthcoming in Columbia Poetry Review, Sink Review, Salt Hill, Gulf Coast and Boston Review. Jeff’s an asshole.